Bob’s Red Mill sponsors cyclocross events and racers from coast to coast – and it’s a company from outside the industry. No matter where you race, you’ve likely seen the name and eaten a (free!) cup of Bob’s steel cut oatmeal. Attracting businesses like Bob’s to the sport – and showing that there’s a strong economic return - is paramount to the growth of cyclocross. So we checked in with Bob’s to see why the company came to ’cross, and how it’s going so far.
by Scott Rosenfield
At Portland ’cross races, it’s a common scene. Between gusts of wind and falling rain, a man cradles his cup of coffee, drawing it near his face for warmth. The cup, courtesy of Chris King Precision Components, is filled to the rim. Every so often he moves, and a curtain of water falls from off his hood. The man has yet to take a sip. He seems to be using the cup for warmth.
He may be spectating. Or he may be about to kit-up and race. He might have already raced. Regardless, he’s standing there in the cold and rain and mud. He’s standing there with a cup of coffee but nothing to eat.
Some feet away, Matthew Cox is watching the race. He’s a cyclist and an employee at Bob’s Red Mill, a health-oriented company that produces over 400 products, many of them from whole grains. Noticing the man cradling his coffee, he suddenly realizes the unique opportunity ’cross racing presents.
“It was an ‘a-ha!’ moment,” Cox says. “We realized we could be sharing our products with awesome people out there on a Sunday morning in horrible conditions.”
From that moment in 2006, much has changed. While Bob’s Red Mill had always been connected to the athletic community by virtue of the Portland demographic, it has grown to sponsor over 40 events, as well as several riders and teams.
This year, the company started its Train with Grain program. Riders register online or by phone. Then, Bob’s Red Mill sends each participant four whole grain products and a yellow Train with Grain armband – at no charge. In return, riders train, consume their grains and check in at target races to be entered for a chance to win a Focus CX2 bike.
“It’s a way to turn athletes on to the awesome benefits of whole grains by giving them products to use for events they are targeting,” Cox says. “There was a really great response to the campaign with just about 800 participants. It was fantastic.”
While Portland has been a Bob’s Red Mill stronghold, the program has expanded across the country, Mitchell Kersting says. For the 2010 season, Kersting was the director of Bob’s Red Mill p/b Focus Bikes Cyclocross Team, the “first and only” ’cross-dedicated team out of Louisville, Kentucky.
As the team expands for next year and rumors abound about its transformation into a regional powerhouse squad, Kersting emphasizes the importance of his relationship with Bob’s Red Mill.
“They’re really hands on,” Kersting says. “With sponsors and supporters you don’t always find friendly relationships. But Bob’s Red Mill balances friendship and business. [The company's] main focus is being associated with good, wholesome people.”
And as athletes choose teams and vote with their dollars as consumers, authenticity counts. Maureen Bruno Roy, a professional cyclist and Bob’s Red Mill-sponsored rider explains her dedication to the company in terms of ethics.
“It’s really important for me when I work with a company that I believe in their product and business practices,” she said. “I generally don’t solicit or support companies with products that I wouldn’t use myself or [if I don't] support their business practices. [With Bob’s Red Mill] I believe so strongly in their product, mission and company practices.”
In return, Bob’s Red Mill is keen on a particular type of sponsored rider: the girl or guy who embodies the its approach. In Bruno Roy, the company found its marquee.
“Maureen Bruno Roy is the epitome of our kind of racer,” Cox says. “We didn’t want to go out and get some racer who was fast and slap a logo on her. We wanted to find people who are ambassadors of our mission.”
For the last several years, ’cross has been the focus of Bob’s Red Mill’s expansion. With a mission of health and sustainability, the company has become one of the sport’s key benefactors. From sponsoring a handful of riders to now backing several teams and race series, the company’s involvement has only increased. Bob’s has thrown its support behind the biggest series and events in the country – including the USGP and NACT national series; the Ohio Valley (OVCX), Cross Crusade, Seattle Cyclocross and Verge New England regional series; and the National Championships. For outsiders, this infusion of support can be perplexing. Few sponsors have emerged as quickly and with as much dedication.
While marketing is a component of the company’s approach to ’cross, Cox explains the involvement goes beyond economic decisions. “We’re really into the sport as individuals,” Cox says. “We’re going to be participating either way. That was an important part of our authenticity. We’re not just trying to reach a new segment or target audience.”
But Cox says the partnership has been more than worthwhile. Moving forward, he explains that the company will attempt to branch out into other athletic endeavors.
“Our goal is to reach a broader athletic community,” he said. “Cycling is a natural fit because we know and love it. And ’cross was a perfect place to start. It will be the center of our athletic universe, but we’ll branch out a little into other cycling-related sports.”
The company’s employees fully believe that whole grains provide an advantage in sports – cycling and otherwise. Not only do whole grains digest slowly and suppress hunger, but the slow release of energy applies itself well to short, intense sports like ’cross, according to Cox. He hopes these qualities will help Bob’s Red Mill gain a following in other cycling disciplines.
The Train with Grain program provides athletes with the perfect opportunity to put the company’s philosophy to the test, he says. “We just want people to know that whole grains make a difference,” Cox says. “Give it a shot. Maybe it works for you.”
While the program has been temporarily closed to new entries, Train with Grain enrollment will start again in March. More info at www.bobsredmill.com